Picture: succo/Pixabay
Picture: succo/Pixabay

Covid-19: Courts to remain open only for ‘urgent matters’

By Zelda Venter Time of article published Mar 26, 2020

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Pretoria - All courts will remain open, but to a limited extent, during the national lockdown.

However, they will only deal with urgent matters at hand, in accordance with a directive sent out by the Office of the Chief Justice yesterday.

The Constitutional Court and other superior courts are in recess. The high courts, however, will still deal with urgent matters.

Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng made it clear that the lower courts, which were not in recess, would also continue to deal with urgent matters.

His office has, in terms of Section 165 of the Constitution and Section 8 of the Superior Courts Act, already delegated the authority to make customised directives to all heads of the superior and lower courts.

This will enable courts to remain open and operational to a limited extent as determined by the head of each court, after consultation with their colleagues at that court. The Office of the Chief Justice said the courts will, as an essential service, remain open for the filing of papers and hearing of urgent applications, bail applications and appeals.

They will also hear matters relating to violations of liberty, domestic violence, maintenance and matters involving children.

The past few days has been a time of great confusion for the legal fraternity as they had no idea whether they may still access the courts during the Covid-19 pandemic, as the various justice leaderships have issued different directives.

Gauteng High Court Judge President Dunstan Mlambo at first tried to limit the access to the courts under his jurisdiction as much as possible to try to prevent the spread of Covid-19. He urged the legal fraternity and judges to, where possible, postpone cases, as well as limiting the number of people who entered the buildings.

His directives were aimed at only allowing those with a direct interest in cases, such as accused, witnesses and the public who accompanied the elderly and child witnesses, into court. His directive was withdrawn the next morning, when the chief justice announced that the courts will remain open, but with stringent safety measures in place, such as sanitising the public before they entered and that staff working with the public had to wear protective gear.

The provincial Efficiency Enhancement Committee, consisting of judges and the legal fraternity, also issued its guidelines in which it was said that all criminal matters should be postponed or heard via video link where possible. It also recommended that civil trials should be postponed.

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